A Tipperary man who persuaded two teenage girls to send him revealing photographs of themselves has been sentenced to four years in prison.
Anthony Cullinane (35), from 158 Willow Park in Clonmel pleaded guilty at the Circuit Criminal Court to two counts of sexual exploitation of children as well as two counts of production of sexually explicit images of children and one count of possession of sexually explicit images of children.
The court heard he separately got to know two teenagers – a 16-year-old in Canada and a 14-year-old in Ireland – over the internet by pretending to be a teenage boy, using a fake profile photo.
One of the victims said she had been “mentally destroyed” by what happened and that she has attempted suicide twice since.
Judge Eugene O’Kelly said it was “sinister” and “pre-meditated” behaviour by Cullinane, with a probation report noting he “enjoyed the feeling of control” over the girls.
The incidents came to light in 2015 when reports were made to Ontario police by the Canadian girl’s mother, which lead to An Garda Síochána getting involved.
The girl had been volunteering for a website which offered peer-to-peer support to teenagers going through difficulties when she began speaking to Cullinane, who posed as a 13-year-old claiming to have been sexually abused by his family.
After a period of time, he began “cajoling her and persuading her” to show him a photograph with her breasts exposed, repeating this on other dates.
He later threatened her that he had found her mother on the internet and would send the pictures to her mother and her friends.
The girl told her mother and, when Irish police became involved, Anthony Cullinane became “a person of interest” and his home was searched. Devices including his laptop, desktop computer and phone were seized and a number of Skype accounts were examined.
Cullinane’s second victim, an Irish girl aged 14, was identified as a result. She had befriended a boy who said he was 15 after receiving a friend request from him on Facebook.
They spoke on Skype where he persuaded her to send him naked photographs of herself. He threatened this girl at different points that he would post her earlier photos on Facebook.
The court heard Gardaí found a photograph of this girl, topless, on the hard drive of Cullinane’s computer following his arrest in May 2015.
A victim impact statement on behalf of the girl heard she suffers from depression and anxiety and is afraid to go anywhere in case she meets Cullinane.
Aidan Doyle SC, for the defendant, said Cullinane had a difficult upbringing due to domestic violence and had left school at the age of 14.
The court heard he has been involved in a relationship since 2015 with a woman in England. Judge O’Kelly asked what age this woman was when this relationship started, and was told she was 16, with the age of consent in the UK at 16.
Judge O’Kelly outlined aggravating factors including the disparity in age between Cullinane and his victims, pre-meditation demonstrated by his adoption of different false online identities and his “sinister” abuse of a website designed to support teenagers.
He noted letters of apology in which Cullinane expressed remorse and acknowledged the pain caused to his victims.
He had one previous conviction for making counterfeit DVDs.
The judge said the appropriate sentence for the child exploitation offences was seven years which was reduced by the mitigating factors to five years. He suspended the last year of this sentence, making the net total four years, to run concurrently with three-year sentences for the production of child pornography and a nine-month sentence for possession of child pornography.